By Kevin Coughlin
It was the next best thing to having Judy Collins perform in your living room.
Collins charmed a packed house at the Sanctuary series on Saturday, filling the Presbyterian Church in Chatham with 90 minutes of songs and stories from an eclectic career that has spanned folk, rock and pop.
The venue was fitting. At times, Collins’ shimmering highs felt like they were sent from on high. That she still hits them fairly consistently, at 76, borders on the supernatural. (Unless sound engineer George Williamson counts as divine intervention.)
Happily, Collins seemed fully recovered from an apparent bout with heat stroke a week earlier at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival.
Collins was accompanied on piano by Russell Walden for most of Saturday’s show, except for a couple of songs near the end of the evening, when she put down her 12-string guitar to take a turn at the keyboard.
The set list included Song for Judith (Open the Door), Both Sides Now, Diamonds and Rust, Who Knows Where the Time Goes, John Riley, Someday Soon and New Moon Over the Hudson.
A highlight was Collins’ haunting a cappella version of In the Hills of Shiloh, a Civil War lament composed by Jim Friedman and Shel Silverstein. The lonesome echo swirled in the balcony like a distant train whistle in the night.
After singing Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne, Collins recounted how the Canadian poet nudged her to write her own tunes. Interspersed throughout the evening were tales from her musical childhood in Denver, quips about past affairs, and a gentle gibe at her old friend Bob Dylan for recording an album of Frank Sinatra numbers.
“This is what Sondheim calls the shtick portion of my show,” Collins deadpanned.
Stephen Sondheim was well represented, musically, with No One Is Alone, from Into the Woods; I’m Still Here from Follies; and Collins’ signature song, Send In the Clowns, from A Little Night Music.
If anything, that last one is more moving now, informed by decades of love and loss, than it was when Collins recorded it in 1975.
A 400-voice sing-along of Amazing Grace closed the show.
Afterward, Rosemary Ross of Wanaque waited outside hoping to meet the singer. She grew up listening to Judy Collins albums and aspired to a singing career. The concert left her beaming.
“She’s a gift to us,” Ross said of Collins. “She just makes you happy.”
Next at The Sanctuary: Red Molly on Aug. 22, 2015; John Sebastian, Sept. 19; and Leo Kottke, Oct. 17.